Surah an-Nazi'at (No. 79, 'Those Who Wrest Violently')

Verses 1-14

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

In the Name of Allah, the All-beneficent, the All-merciful.

وَالنَّازِعَاتِ غَرْقًا

By those who wrest violently (79:1).

وَالنَّاشِطَاتِ نَشْطًا

by those who draw out gently (79:2).

وَالسَّابِحَاتِ سَبْحًا

by those who swim smoothly (79:3).

فَالسَّابِقَاتِ سَبْقًا

by those who take the lead, racing (79:4).

فَالْمُدَبِّرَاتِ أَمْرًا

by those who direct an affair (79:5).

يَوْمَ تَرْجُفُ الرَّاجِفَةُ

the day when the Quaker quakes (79:6).

تَتْبَعُهَا الرَّادِفَةُ

and is followed by the Successor (79:7).

قُلُوبٌ يَوْمَئِذٍ وَاجِفَةٌ

hearts will be trembling on that da (79:8).

أَبْصَارُهَا خَاشِعَةٌ

bearing a humbled look (79:9).

يَقُولُونَ أَإِنَّا لَمَرْدُودُونَ فِي الْحَافِرَةِ

They will say, 'Are we being returned to our earlier state? (79:10).

أَإِذَا كُنَّا عِظَامًا نَخِرَةً

What, when we have been decayed bones? (79:11).

قَالُوا تِلْكَ إِذًا كَرَّةٌ خَاسِرَةٌ

They will say, 'this, then, is a ruinous return! (79:12).

فَإِنَّمَا هِيَ زَجْرَةٌ وَاحِدَةٌ

Yet it will be only a single shout (79:13).

فَإِذَا هُمْ بِالسَّاهِرَةِ

and behold, they will be upon a barren plain. (79:14).

1. Different Types Of Angels

This surah opens with a number of oaths sworn in the name of different types of angels, including:

a. Nazi’at - 'those who wrest' - who pull the spirits of the disbelievers violently from their bodies.

b. Nashitat - 'those who draw out' - who gently unsheathe the spirits of disbelievers from their bodies.

c. Sabihat - 'Those who swim' - who hasten to execute the divine commands, such as quickly taking the spirits of the faithful and conveying them to their abode in the seat of veracity with the Mighty King.

d. Sabiqat - 'those who take the lead' - Who are at the forefront in their journeys, whether it is to take people's spirits or convey the revelatory address to prophets.

e. Mudabbirat - 'those who direct' - who manage the affairs of the universe; they are an intermediary between the divine commands when they are issued and their implementation as determinations for the physical world (muqaddirat).

These oaths, in turn, serve to show us the tasks of the angels, which vary according to the differing degrees of their servitude. From this it is clear that the angels are occupied with managing important affairs, as the word 'affair' (amr) appears as a singular indefinite noun –

By those who direct an affair” (an-Nazia’at, 79:5).

- which conveys this sense of importance.

2. Actions Of The Angels

The time of death, during which the soul is taken, is one of the most important moments in a person's life. That is why it is worthy of Allah classifying the different tasks of the angels according to the differing states, whether they are seizing the soul of a disbeliever or anyone else, and conveying these souls to the place that is appropriate to them. This, in its entirety, is when the verse is looking at the actions of the angels. But there are also, indications that the verses are looking at the conditions of the stars according to their movements in the heavens,1 and that they are looking at the conditions of the mujahidin in battle; this supports the opinion that the Qur'an carries multiple dimensions of meanings simultaneously.

3. The Difficulty In Separating The Soul From The Body

The difficulty in the removal of a spirit from its body is proportional to its attachment to the world of desires, just as it is difficult to pull an arrow from a person's body because the arrow’s head causes it to lodge in the body. The same is true of the souls of the disbelievers; the angels must wrest their souls from their bodies like someone mercilessly pulling out an arrow; [because it is buried so, deep] it is a long, hard and violent process to remove it, and this is the meaning given for the verse:

“By those who wrest violently...” (an-Nazi’at, 79:1).

4. Angels Directing The Affair

The importance of the angels is manifested in the fact that they direct the affair -

“by those who direct an affair.(an-Nazi’at, 79:5).

in addition to the oaths sworn by them in a number of surahs, such as in al-Saffat and al-Mursalat. Angels are the means of conveyance. In fact, Allah attaches this grave affair to Himself, when He says:

“...then settled on the Throne, directing the affair.” (Yunus, 10:3).

The difference is that while the angels have been entrusted with directing the command, it is Allah who is the ultimate authority in all matters.

Is it any surprise, then, that Allah should entrust this to His greatest awliya' who are intermediaries in emanation (fayd), and who are served by these same angels!

5. A Station Of Nearness

The occupation of the angels with directing the affairs of the universe by Allah's command does not contradict their utter absorption in the glorification and praise of Allah as implied by His words:

“And those who are near Him do not disdain to worship Him, nor do they become weary”. (al-Anbiya', 21:19).

They glorify night and day, and they do not flag.” (al-Anbiya', 21:20).

So, what is desired of man, who is like a deputy (khalifah) of Allah on this earth - and who resembles the angels in their rank - is to reach this level, whereby he unites (jam’) occupation in the creation with utter absorption in the Creator!

This verse might indicate how this can be achieved; the human being must sense that he has a station of nearness (‘indiyya), as derived from the words 'who are near Him' (wa man 'indahu). It is as though this is the key to attaining this all-consuming remembrance [of Allah.]

6. The Ultimate Cause In All Situations

Ascribing worldly phenomena such as death, sustenance etc. to various causes (asbab) after having already ascribed them to Allah is like ascribing the act of writing to the pen or the hand. These are subsidiaries of the human being in relation to the act, and not co­equal with him. Therefore, it is not unusual to attribute worldly phenomena to various causes, such as ascribing death to the Angel of Death,2 once again after having already been ascribed to Allah. In this way, the magnificence of Lordship remains untouched, by seeing it as the ultimate cause in all situations.

7. Two Great Cries

One of the unique features of the Resurrection is that it contains two great cries (sayha), which induce panic; they are referred to as ‘the Quaker’ (al-rajifa) and 'the Successor' (al-radifa), which follows it. It is noteworthy that the Qur’an has used a word derived from the same root meaning as the first for the hypocrites (munafiqun) of Medina:

“…… the rumour mongers (murjifun) in the city…...” (al-Ahzab, 33:60).

It is as though their speech, in which they spread rumours is like an earthquake which shakes the peace of the community.

8. Self-Refinement

On the Day of Resurrection, the condition of the disbelievers who denied the Resurrection will resemble the condition of the hearts of the faithful in this world, in that they will be:

a. 'Trembling' (wajifa) - which means they will be panicking in fear of Allah, just as the hearts of the faithful trembled in this world.

b. 'Bearing a humbled look' (absaruha khashi'a) - because their hearts are humbled, and this is one of the most sublime qualities of the faithful in this world!

But as well as these attributes which are shared in the Hereafter, there is one quality that belongs only to the faithful in this world, that is:

“they will have no fear, nor will they grieve.” (al-Ahqaf, 46:13).

So, the perfection of all perfection is for the attributes of the hearts in the Hereafter to be realized in the life of this world, which is the abode of self-refinement and attaining nearness to Allah.

9. “A Barren Plain”

After the second blowing of the trumpet, the ground of Resurrection will transform into what the Qur’an describes as:

'and behold, they will be on a barren plain.' (an-Nazi’at, 79:14).

In other words, they will find themselves in a vast, flat expanse without vegetation. This means that a person should, when he sees delightful sights of this world, remember the day when every sight on the earth will vanish and there will not remain but a single sight, represented in everything that was ascribed to Allah, as the only thing that shall endure is His countenance (wajh) and this includes everything that is properly ascribed to Him.

Verses 15-26

هَلْ أَتَاكَ حَدِيثُ مُوسَىٰ

Did you receive the story of Moses (79:15).

إِذْ نَادَاهُ رَبُّهُ بِالْوَادِ الْمُقَدَّسِ طُوًى

when his Lord called out to him in the holy valley of Tuwa? (79:16).

اذْهَبْ إِلَىٰ فِرْعَوْنَ إِنَّهُ طَغَىٰ

'Go to Pharaoh, for Indeed, he has rebelled, (79:17).

فَقُلْ هَلْ لَكَ إِلَىٰ أَنْ تَزَكَّىٰ

and say, "Would you refine yourself? (79:18).

وَأَهْدِيَكَ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ فَتَخْشَىٰ

I will guide you to your Lord, that you may fear [Him)?" '(79:19).

فَأَرَاهُ الْآيَةَ الْكُبْرَىٰ

Then he showed him the greatest sign. (79:20).

فَكَذَّبَ وَعَصَىٰ

But he denied, and disobeyed. (79:21).

ثُمَّ أَدْبَرَ يَسْعَىٰ

Then he turned back, striving, (79:22).

فَحَشَرَ فَنَادَىٰ

and mustered (the people) and proclaimed, (79:23).

فَقَالَ أَنَا رَبُّكُمُ الْأَعْلَىٰ

saying. 'I am your lord, the most-high!'(79:24).

فَأَخَذَهُ اللَّهُ نَكَالَ الْآخِرَةِ وَالْأُولَىٰ

So, Allah seized him with the punishment of this life and the Hereafter. (79:25).

إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَعِبْرَةً لِمَنْ يَخْشَىٰ

There is Indeed, a lesson in that for someone who fears! (79:26).

10. Divine Providence

Someone who receives the Divine Providence ('inaya ilahiyyah), by which he becomes one summoned to his Master, is best able to confront the Pharonic tyrants. Sometimes, this requires the ability to master the hearts of those who advance towards you. At other times, it requires the ability to face those who turn away, that is to confront their number and strength. Neither of these can be achieved without assistance from the realm of the unseen; Allah certainly gave assistance to Moses (‘a) with both of these abilities according to the stories about him in the Qur’an.

11. Physical And Spiritual Purity

Conversing with the Holy of Holies can only happen in venues which are sacred and pure, which is why Allah chose the holy valley to speak directly to Moses (‘a), and commanded Abraham (‘a), His confidant, to purify His House for those who go around it ('Purify...')3 and forbade the idolaters from maintaining Allah's mosques:

“The polytheists may not maintain Allah's mosques ...” (at-Tawbah 9:17).

That is also, why Allah bid us to put on our adornment for every occasion of prayer;

“O Children of Adam! Put on your adornment on every occasion of prayer.” (al-A’raf 7:31).

On this basis, it can be said that anyone who wishes to be in a proper state to converse intimately (munajah) with his Master, must purify himself outwardly from physical impurities, and inwardly from spiritual ones such as disobedience and sinning.

12. Oppressive Rulers

Anyone who wishes to fight against corruption in the society can only do it by combating its sources. At the head of these sources is the conduct of oppressive rulers; 'people follow the religion of their sovereigns'4 and as mentioned in the verse:

“... Indeed, when kings enter a town, they corrupt it……” (al-Naml, 27:34).

This is why Allah commands Moses (‘a) to confront Pharaoh as the first step in his program of reform;

“Go to Pharaoh, for Indeed, he has rebelled.” (an-Nazi’at, 79:14).

13. Enjoining Good And Forbidding Evil

Just because your audience is rebellious, this should never prevent you from undertaking your duty to enjoin the good and forbid the evil:

a. Because you might still have an effect on them, even if it is delayed; there is always hope that even the greatest of sinners will see the error of his ways, as the magicians of the Pharaoh did.

b. Or to leave them without any excuse (itmam al-hujjah), which will make their fate more severe, and their punishment more fitting.

14. Allah’s Stratagems

The verses which mention Pharaoh's destruction demonstrate Allah's power to seize even the mightiest of tyrants, which in turn gives consolation to the faithful when they suffer under the oppressors of their own times, who are weaker than Pharaoh. But these verses should also, cast terror into the hearts of the wrongdoers when they see the subtlety of Allah's stratagems (makr) and He directs these against the disbelieving people.

15. Kindness And Beautiful Preaching

The Qur'an teaches us to use kindness and beautiful preaching when calling Allah's servants towards Him:

a. Pharaoh was the most vicious of Allah's creation, and yet he was called to purify himself gently:

and say, "Would you refine yourself? (an-Nazi’at, 79:18).

b. And in a gentle manner -

“Speak to him in a gentle manner ...” (Ta Ha, 20:44).

This was with someone who claimed to be the Highest Lord and ordered the slaughter of suckling infants!

c. Here, Moses (‘a) connects the Lord to Pharaoh, saying: 'to your Lord.' Even though he did not acknowledge the God of Moses.

16. Self-Purification

What is desired from the servant is to produce a change in his self through his own efforts. Otherwise, Allah can easily produce this change without any effort from His servant, as happens with all the other changes in the universe. This is why we see Moses (‘a) asking Pharaoh to purify himself:

“and say, Would you refine yourself?” (an-Nazi’at, 79:18).

He does not say, for instance: 'I will refine you!'

17. Self-Refinement

The expression 'self-refinement' (tazkiyah) is repeated in the calls of all the Prophets (‘a). So, if it is:

a. With the meaning of growth (namw), it indicates continuous human self-development (takamul) and growth, which is achieved through following the message of the Prophets.

b. With the meaning of cleansing and purification, it indicates freeing oneself of contaminants in the human soul, also, by following their message.

18. Addressing Those Who Have Deviated Far From The Path

When addressing those who are far from the path of guidance, you must always mention things that will attract them to the path and be in harmony with their nature (fitrah), rather than demanding them to blindly accept things that are difficult for them! This is why we see that Moses (‘a) does not call on Pharaoh to follow the laws of his Shari'ah, but only asks him to refine himself in a manner that no one with a healthy nature would disagree with, and which even someone with no religion would desire!

19. The Message Of The Prophets

The message of the Prophets is represented at times in guiding those who can be guided, and at other times by confronting those who are averse to accepting guidance. This is clearly manifested in the lives of Abraham (‘a) and Moses (‘a), and this is what we mean when we say that religion is not separated from the politics of Allah's servants!

The verses of the Qur'an are replete with instances that demonstrate these two affairs. By these, I mean first sending messengers to guide all mankind:

“We did not send you except as a bearer of good news and warner to all mankind ...” (Saba’, 34:28).

and second, fighting against all those who obstruct divine guidance as well:

“…... Fight the polytheists all together, just as they fight you all together ...” (at-Tawba, 9:36).

20. Levels

There is a connection, in the logic of the Qur'an, between guidance ('I will guide you'), self-refinement ('refine yourself’) and fear ('that you may fear') because faith is not restricted to merely worshipping with the limbs, which may not entail any of these affairs.

Hence, we know that anyone who wants to guide others must have attained these levels and embodied them in himself; someone who lacks fear and refinement cannot bring about these in others.

21. The Pharaoh And Moses (A)

Allah commanded Moses (‘a) to raise the level of what was being demanded of Pharaoh, who claimed lordship for himself. So, Moses asked of him things that some people might not have thought him obliged to do, such as self-refinement and fear... and if this is the case, how can some people excuse themselves from such duties, while they are upon an acceptable level of faith?

22. Fear Of Allah

We can say that the stages of being affected by the preaching of the Prophets and Successors (‘a) are represented first by learning:

“…... and teach them the Book and wisdom....” (al-Baqarah, 2:129).

followed with fear:

“Only those of Allah's servants having knowledge fear Him.” (Fatir, 35:28).

Their fruit is fearing Allah and avoiding his prohibitions:

“You can only warn those who fear their Lord,” (Fatir, 35:18).

because this internal transformation requires a foundation of fear, which is why the Qur'an makes fear a precondition of taking a lesson:

“There is Indeed, a lesson in that for someone who fears!” (an-Nazi'at, 79:26).

23. Two Stages Of Self-Refinement

Self-refinement is accomplished in two stages:

a. First, 'general self-refinement' (al-tazkiyah al-ijmaliyyah) as represented by avoiding sins and receiving general guidance (al-hidayah al-ijmaliyyah).

b. Second, 'detailed self-refinement' (al-tazkiyah al-tafsiliyyah) which accompanies fear, after which the servant becomes ready for select and detailed guidance (al-hidayah al-khassah)

The verse mentions self-refinement first, followed by guidance, followed by fear; 'refine yourself ... I will guide you ... that you might fear.'

24. Moses’ Miracles

An action on the psychological dimension comes before an external action that is tangible and visible. As you can see, Moses (‘a):

a. Acted to bring about an emotional and intellectual opening in the psychological realm by using gentle words and calling on [the Pharaoh] to refine himself and fear [Allah] in the mode of a suggestion or a request, rather than that of a forceful command.

b. Showed the Pharaoh the greatest signs in the visible realm, including the transformation of his staff, his white hand and others, in order to leave him without any excuse.

It is well known that miracles are rarely employed to convince people, but the same cannot be said of psychological influence; this option is always open for anyone who wishes to utilize the methods of the Prophets.

25. Guiding Other People

Anyone that Allah turns towards and singles out for special graces is duty-bound to utilize these to guide other people and confront the wrongdoers. Rather than being absorbed by spiritual prosperity - as is the practice of monks - the first action the prophets (‘a) undertook after receiving their mission was to guide those who were astray and confront those who had earned Allah's wrath. And this is something we can also, see clearly in the life of the final Prophet (S).

26. Prophets

Allah endowed His prophets with powers that corresponded to those of their enemies; so, He gave Moses (‘a) numerous signs, including the one mentioned in this surah:

Then He showed him the greatest sign(an-Nazi’at, 79:18).

and this is because of the power of his opponent who claimed not only lordship for himself, but the highest lordship:

“I am your lord, the most-high!” (an-Nazi’at, 79:24).

This was in addition to the fact that his civilization had reached the pinnacle of development in architecture and other fields, as attested to by the construction of the pyramids. And this power belongs to the hearts of everyone who calls on Allah at all times and in places, as there is some power that provides them with what they need to match that of their enemies, such that they have no fear in this regard, and nor shall they grieve!

27. Employing Falsehood

Those who have strayed from the path of guidance do not hesitate in employing any falsehood, no matter how obvious. This is why the Pharaoh insists on calling the most honest man alive - Moses (‘a) a liar:

But he denied ...” (an-Nazi’at, 79:24).

This was in spite of the manifest signs Moses brought, not least of which was showing the magic of the Pharaoh’s magicians was false, something even they themselves confessed to!5

28. False Beliefs

The people of falsehood are committed to their false beliefs; in fact, they struggle for those.

“Then he turned back, striving,” (an-Nazi’at, 79:22).

The above verse refers to the Pharaoh. ‘Striving’ shows seriousness and determination. But the believers are those who are more entitled to strive for the sake of their right path. This is why the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) had every right to complain about his people when he said: 'How strange it is! By Allah, my heart sinks and I grieve to see these people united upon their falsehood while you scatter from your right path; so, woe to you! And grief!6

In another verse, the Qur'an alludes to the fact that whatever harm befalls you (the faithful) in Allah's way also, befalls the disbeliever, with the caveat that there is an immeasurable divide between the fate of these two sides:

“If you are suffering, they are also, suffering like you, but you expect from Allah what they do not expect.(al-Nisa', 4:104).

29. The Media

Tyrants in every age exploit the media for their own ends; the Pharaoh had the ability to gather the people and tell them whatever he wanted, as we see from Allah's words:

“and mustered (the people] and proclaimed(an-Nazi’at, 79:23).

and His words:

“Then Pharaoh sent heralds to the cities.” (al-Shu'ara', 26:53).

This shows us that someone like this can only be confronted by using similar means, namely the power of the media to assemble one's allies and helpers in the path of guidance.

30. Two Types Of Punishment

Allah holds two kinds of punishment for people; a punishment deferred until a day on which the eyes will be glazed,7 and an immediate punishment! Allah will show some people abasement in this world before the Hereafter, and that is what happened to the Pharaoh and his clan. As for the punishment of this world, the Qur’an says:

“ …… so, We drowned them in the sea …… ” (al-A'raf, 7:136).

and as for that in the Hereafter, it mentions:

“ …… and on the day when the Hour sets in Pharaoh's clan will enter the severest punishment.” (al-Ghafir, 40:46).

And Allah combines these two meanings in His words:

“So, Allah seized him with the punishment of this life and the Hereafter.” (an-Nazi’at, 79:25).

It is possible to say that whoever disputes Allah's authority will face punishment in this world, unlike the sinner who not only does not see in himself the power to contend with his Lord, but in truth sees his own abasement in the sins he has committed.

31. Lessons

The Qur'an does not set forth stories of the Prophets (‘a) to offer us consolation by listening to their tales, or cast them in purely artistic forms. Rather these stories are there for us to consider and take lessons from. And this is only possible for those who already possess a foundation of fearing their Lord:

“There is Indeed, a lesson in that for someone who fears!” (an-Nazi’at, 79:26).

Verses 27-36

أَأَنْتُمْ أَشَدُّ خَلْقًا أَمِ السَّمَاءُ بَنَاهَا

Is it you whose creation is more prodigious or the sky that He has built? (79:27).

رَفَعَ سَمْكَهَا فَسَوَّاهَا

He raised its vault, and fashioned it, (79:28).

وَأَغْطَشَ لَيْلَهَا وَأَخْرَجَ ضُحَاهَا

and darkened its night, and brought forth its day (79:29).

وَالْأَرْضَ بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ دَحَاهَا

and after that He spread out the earth (79:30).

أَخْرَجَ مِنْهَا مَاءَهَا وَمَرْعَاهَا

and brought forth from it its water and pastures (79:31).

وَالْجِبَالَ أَرْسَاهَا

and set firm the mountains (79:32).

مَتَاعًا لَكُمْ وَلِأَنْعَامِكُمْ

as a provision for you and your livestock (79:33).

فَإِذَا جَاءَتِ الطَّامَّةُ الْكُبْرَىٰ

When the Greatest Catastrophe befalls (79:34).

يَوْمَ يَتَذَكَّرُ الْإِنْسَانُ مَا سَعَىٰ

the day when man will remember his endeavours (79:35).

وَبُرِّزَتِ الْجَحِيمُ لِمَنْ يَرَىٰ

and hell is brought into view for one who sees (79:36).

32. The Universe

One verse says:

“Is it you whose creation is more prodigious or the heavens which He has built? (an-Nazi’at, 79:27).

Another verse, elsewhere, says:

“Surely the creation of the heavens and the earth is more prodigious than the creation of mankind.” (al-Ghafir, 40:57).

In these verses, the Qur’an affirms the fact that the act of creating of the heavens is greater than that of creating the human being. In this way, it makes the power of creation more complex, as proof that Allah can repeat the creation of something lesser. This reveals the state of the believer when he ponders on the creation of the heavens, especially when he wakes for prayer in the depth of the night; he realizes, in truth, that the object of contemplation - the universe - is greater than the one contemplating it - the person himself. And this realization, in turn, should give him occasion to feel small and humbled indeed!

33. Posing A Question

One of the ways to engage your audience is to pose them a question - even if the answer to it seems obvious - in order to arouse their interest in the subject under discussion. That is why the Almighty asks the question:

“Is it you whose creation is more prodigious or the heavens which He has built?” (an-Nazi’at, 79:27).

so, that the audience will acknowledge their own weakness in their own hearts.

34. Mentioning The Signs

The common approach to remind mankind of their creator is by mentioning His signs in the external world, and that is why the Qur'an frequently mentions the heavens and the earth - including these signs - so, that the minds of the audience will shift from the sensory to the intelligible. But there are also, servants who do not need this common approach; these are those for whom Allah manifests within their own selves in some form.

35. Enjoying The Provisions Of This World

There no fault whatsoever in someone enjoying the provisions of this world, so, long as that does not hinder him from worshipping his Lord. Allah mentions the blessings of the earth - and the things He brings forth from it such as water, pasture and mountains - in the context of divine blessings; far be it from Allah to give His servants something that would bar them from His way! And the Qur'an affirms this fact when it says:

“Say: 'Who has forbidden the adornment of Allah which He has brought forth for His servants, and the good things of provision.” (al-A'raf, 7:32).

36. Man Should Be The Master Of The Provisions

When a certain provision is attributed to another person, this implies that its owner occupies a higher level than it does, because he possesses it and uses it as he wishes, making him its master (malik) and owner; whereas someone who loves this provision becomes its servant (mamluk). The Qur'an wants us to be masters of the provisions ('as a provision for you') not for worldly provisions to become our masters! And this is why some say that the essence of asceticism (zuhd) is that nothing owns the human being, not that the human being owns nothing.8

37. Reflection

Allah attributes the provisions of this world to mankind and cattle equally –

...... for you and your livestock...” (an-Nazi’at, 79:33).

but the distinction between them lies in other areas; namely reflection and thought. It is only through these activities that the human being becomes a rational animal (haywan natiq).

38. Catastrophe

The tribulation a servant faces on the Day of Judgment as a consequence of his actions is graver than any other he has experienced. That is why Allah calls it 'the Greatest Catastrophe.' A catastrophe (tamma) means something overwhelming; it is described as 'greatest' (kubra) to emphasize its gravity. Once we comprehend this, we will come to realize that we should endure the hardships of this world to avoid something worse than them!

39. Self-Accounting

During the events of the Resurrection, and especially when Hell comes into view for its (soon-to-be) inhabitants, human being will be constantly reminded of his efforts in this world:

“the day when man will remember his endeavours” (an-Nazi’at, 79:35).

And this in itself is a kind of punishment for the inhabitants of hell because it associates their past actions with their immediate consequences. They will see that their worldly pleasures have truly vanished and their suffering has now begun!

How appropriate it is that this remembrance - which is in the abode of this world - should be an opportunity for us to change our ways, as this lies at the very core of self-accounting (muhasabah) and self-observation (muraqabah). And Imam al-Kazim (‘a) disassociates from anyone who neglects these duties when he says: 'Not of us is whoever does not hold himself to account every day!'9

Verses 37-46

فَأَمَّا مَنْ طَغَىٰ

as for him who was rebellious (79:37).

وَآثَرَ الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا

and preferred the life of this world (79:38).

فَإِنَّ الْجَحِيمَ هِيَ الْمَأْوَىٰ

his refuge will Indeed, be hell. (79:39).

وَأَمَّا مَنْ خَافَ مَقَامَ رَبِّهِ وَنَهَى النَّفْسَ عَنِ الْهَوَىٰ

But as for him who fears standing before his Lord and forbids the soul from desire (79:40).

فَإِنَّ الْجَنَّةَ هِيَ الْمَأْوَىٰ

his refuge will Indeed, be paradise. (79:41).

يَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ السَّاعَةِ أَيَّانَ مُرْسَاهَا

They ask you concerning the Hour, 'When will it set in?' (79:42).

فِيمَ أَنْتَ مِنْ ذِكْرَاهَا

What have you to say thereof? (79:43).

إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ مُنْتَهَاهَا

Its outcome is with your Lord. (79:44).

إِنَّمَا أَنْتَ مُنْذِرُ مَنْ يَخْشَاهَا

You are only a warner for those who fear it (79:45).

كَأَنَّهُمْ يَوْمَ يَرَوْنَهَا لَمْ يَلْبَثُوا إِلَّا عَشِيَّةً أَوْ ضُحَاهَا

The day they see it, it shall be as if they had not stayed [in the world] except for an evening or forenoon. (79:46).

40. Internal Foundation

If the foundation of rebelliousness is laid down in a servant

“as for him who was rebellious.” (an-Nazi’at, 79:37).

this will cause him to prefer the life of this world over the Hereafter:

and preferred the life of this world.(an-Nazi’at, 79:38).

as the above verses have joined together these two qualities. Likewise, a foundation of the fear of the encounter with one's Lord will cause him to forbid himself from following his desires

“But as for him who fears standing before his Lord and forbids the soul from desire” (an-Nazi’at, 79:40).

as we also, glean from this surah. The general rule we can derive from the Qur'an as a whole is that a person's internal foundation is the source for many external effects.

41. Worldly Life

Man’s problem does not lie in any distinct feature of the worldly life - as represented by women, sons, or (his wealth in the form of) accumulated piles of gold and silver, livestock and farms10 - rather it lies in giving preference to these things above the pleasure of his Lord Almighty, as in the verse:

and preferred the life of this world,” (an-Nazi’at, 79:38).

It lies in the fact that these are made decorous in men's minds:

“I will surely glamorize for them [life] on the earth” (al-Hijr, 15:39).

These worldly attractions lead a servant towards rebelliousness:

“Indeed, man becomes rebellious” (al-'Alaq, 96:6).

“when he considers himself without need” (al-'Alaq, 96:7).

In other words, the problem lies not at the level of ownership ('alaqa), but at the level of attachment ('ulqa).

42. Actions Of The Heart

When interpreting the phrase 'standing before his Lord' which makes one fear Him, several meanings are mentioned:

a. Standing before Him for judgment, in which it means standing before his Lord meaning when the scales are set up.

b. Allah's knowledge of the actions of His servant and His watchfulness over Him, in the sense that He stands over every soul and is aware of what it earns.11

c. In the sense of the station of Lordship and all that Lordship entails.

All of these interpretations are in agreement that it is the deeds of the servant, which nurture the heart, which in turn comprehends these spiritual truths and causes him to abstain from his desires, and which ultimately leads to his physical well-being. This shows that the actions of the heart precede the actions of the body, just as a cause precedes an effect, or just as unrolling a scroll of paper precedes the action of writing something on it.

43. Standing Before One’s Lord

Being aware of standing before one's Lord means that the human being views all the vicissitudes of life as being from Allah, and this awareness is one of the causes for someone to follow the right path in public and in private, and thereby eliminate or minimize his oscillations between turning towards Allah and turning away from Him, which even the awliya' complain of.

One piece of evidence that the meaning of standing before one's Lord is what we mentioned above is a tradition narrated from Imam al-Sadiq (‘a), in which he says: 'Whoever knows that Allah sees him, hears what he says and knows any good or evil [he does), and this prevents him from immoral deeds, then this person is one who fears standing before his Lord and forbids his soul from desire.'12

44. Fear

A persons' fear could be:

a. Due to an external factor, such as his fear of a wild animal or a human enemy.

b. Because of some fault of his own, such as a criminal's fear of punishment.

c. Because he senses the greatness of someone he believes to be great, such as a student's fear of his teacher, which accompanies a sense of his importance.

So, when the awliya' fear Allah, this fear belongs in the third category. There do not feel fear because something fearsome threatens them, nor because of any fault of their own doing. Rather it is because they are aware of the station of greatness, which inspires them with a holy sense of fear.

45. Desires

A person must deal with his desires:

“…… and forbids the soul from desire” (an-Nazi’at, 79:40).

as a father deals with a child who - unaware of his own best interests - desires something that will bring him to ruin. So, his father prevents him from pursuing it. And this is different from forbidding evil, which is accomplished purely through admonition.

Therefore, the way one deals with his own desires is not like one equal giving advice to another.

46. Divine Law

The divine law applies to all creatures, whether they exist in the external realm or the internal one. On this basis, the verse invokes a general principle. A person that is rebellious

“ ....who was rebellious” (an-Nazi’at, 79:37).

will fall into the path of ruin, for Hell is his refuge, while he who fears God

“ ....who fears standing before his Lord and forbids the soul from desire…” (an-Nazi’at, 79:40).

will attain the peak of guidance, for Paradise is his, as it is clear that whoever follows the path of causes will reach their effects, just as it is in the material realm.

47. Details Without Practical Benefit

Some people become fixated upon details that have no practical benefit, and in this they resemble the polytheists who were asking about the time of the Hour. The Qur'an answers them:

“What have you to say thereof?” (an-Nazi’at, 79:43).

to dissuade them from this childishness which is of no avail, and the same is true of Allah's saying:

“They ask you concerning the Hour, 'When will it set in?’ ” (an-Nazi’at, 79:42).

And perhaps we can apply the same rebuke to those who, for example, try to forecast as to when Allah's relief (faraj) will come while doing nothing to prepare themselves to assist the bringer of that relief, or those who try to work out the philosophy behind certain rulings rather than applying those rulings in their own lives!

48. Knowledge Of The Hidden

Even though Allah has opened the door of exoteric knowledge to all of His servants, and the door of esoteric knowledge to His selected servants - the Prophets and the Successors (‘a) - there is certain knowledge that He has withheld, which no human being has any inkling of. One such piece of knowledge concerns the Hour; the outcome of its knowledge is the sole preserve of the One who knows everything that is visible and everything that is unseen;

Its outcome is with your Lord.” (an-Nazi’at, 79:44).

None of this, in any way, prevents the servant from seeking abundant and copious knowledge from his Lord, according to his innate capacity for that. In fact, he should first ask Him to expand his capacity, and then to shower His blessings upon him!

49. Glad Tidings And Warnings

The Prophets (‘a) were sent as bearers of glad tidings and as warner, but that does not mean that the ratio of warnings to glad tidings is equal for all types of people. Warnings, rather than glad tidings, are emphasized for those who are negligent or hostile, and that is why this verse only mentions a warning for those who deny the Resurrection;

“You are only a warner for those who fear it.” (an-Nazi’at, 79:45).

This means that when a believer is calling others towards Allah, he must balance warnings and glad tidings according to the situation of those he is interacting with.

50. Personal Development

The Prophets (‘a) came to raise the level of development of each individual person, but in order to have an effect their preaching requires the existence of a general foundation for the acceptance of their message. This in turn necessitates a state of fear - even if only a very general one – at times towards the Origin –

“You can only warn someone who follows the Reminder and fears the All-beneficent ……” (Yasin, 36:11).

and at other times towards the Return:

“You are only a warner for those who fear it.” (an-Nazi’at, 79:45).

This shows that someone who lived his life not based on being open [to the prophetic message] and following [it] cannot bring himself to follow the prophets externally. This is what Allah means when He says:

“ is the same to them whether you warn them or do not warn them ..” (al-Baqarah, 2:6).

51. A Short Sojourn

Being aware of the transient nature of this world and its insignificance compared to the Hereafter is something that will prevent the servant from being consumed by lusts. This is because any rational person will naturally forgo a small gain for a greater one; what more when the two are incomparable? As compared to the eternal life of the Hereafter, this world is nothing more than a morning or evening's sojourn;

'The day they see it, it shall be as if they had not stayed for an evening or a forenoon' (an-Nazi’at, 79:46).

or even less; an hour! Allah says:

“And on the day when the Hour sets in the guilty will swear that they had remained only for an hour.” (al-Rum, 30:55).

  • 1. Al-Tibyan 10/251; Majma' Al-Bayan Fi Tafsir Al-Qur'an 10/651.
  • 2. See Surah al-Sajdah:
    'Say, 'You will be taken away by the angel of death, who has been charged with you. Then you will be brought back to your Lord.'' (32:11).
  • 3. See Surah al-Baqarah:
    'Purify My House for those who go around it, [for] those who make it a retreat and [for] those who bow and prostrate.' (2:125).
  • 4. 'Ilal Al-Shara’i, 1/14.
  • 5. Refer to Surah al-A'raf:
    “Thus they were vanquished there, and they went back abased.” (7:119).
    “And the enchanters were thrown down, prostrating (themselves).” (7:120).
  • 6. Nahj al-Balagha, sermon no. 27.
  • 7. See Surah Ibrahim:
    'He is only granting them respite until the day when the eyes will be glazed.' (14:42).
  • 8. Tahqiq Fi Kalimtat Al-Qur'an 4/356.
  • 9. Bihar al-Anwar, 1/152.
  • 10. See Surah Ale 'Imran:
    'To mankind has been made to seem decorous the love of desires, including women and children, accumulated piles of gold and silver, horses of mark, livestock, and farms. Those are the wares of the life of this world; but Allah - with Him is a good destination .' (3:14).
  • 11. See Surah ar-Ra'd:
    'Is He who stands over every soul by what it has earned...?' (13:33).
  • 12. Al-Kafi, 2/70.